In Lab - Archive

The "happiness factory"

Franco Marzo Coaching & business development

The depressing firm

In order not to be misunderstood, I’ll start by saying that the word happiness comes from the Greek root phyo which means fruitful, productive. This being said, is it possible to imagine a "factory of happiness"? Is it not true that when we are having fun, we produce more? What qualities must a "happiness leader" have to promote ideas and increase productivity?

An entrepreneur once invited me to his company to evaluate a productivity problem. At the end of a long and expensive renovation and automation (4.0) process of his production systems, the results gathered by the Manufacturing execution system (Mes) were rather unsatisfactory. According to his estimates, the production was 50% lower than it should have been. I suggested a discussion with his union representatives to get an alternative point of view. However, the same estimates were confirmed: -50%. At that point I tried to analyse the possible reasons for this phenomenon: perfect organization; sense of belonging; a leading company in the sector; a generous, esteemed and appreciated entrepreneur; loyal collaborators. So far so good. However, a number of flaws soon became evident: technological transition (4.0) to be managed culturally; entrepreneur physically present only once or twice a week; rare or total absence of any kind of socialization; hints of rudeness creeping in, but above all, a “sad” factory, no one seemed to have the same past enthusiasm.


Motivation 4.0

The Factory 4.0 scenario is developing in the name of digitization, connectivity and automation. The huge Big Data cauldron is filled with new concepts such as Cobots (collaborative robots), Agv (Automated guided vehicle), Ahmi (Advanced human machine integration), Iot (Internet of things), advanced automation, cloud manufacturing, additive manufacturing, and all possible “smart”: smart-lifecycle, smart-supply chain, smart-factory, etc..

Yet, in a context where man seems to be overshadowed by all these innovation, we suddenly realize that to make the best use of such data, resources and technologies, we need ideas, imagination and above all the desire to be involved and experiment. Today innovation is based on combinations, joining together the infinite quantity of data, raw materials, technologies (bio and nano), machines, computers, components, virtual and augmented reality, to create something that has meaning and brings benefit, requires a new type of motivation 4.0. Do you remember Nintendo’s Wii? A few years ago it rescued the company from a deep crisis. Its success was due to the combination of an accelerometer (made to control the vibrations created by the centrifugal movement of washing machines), optical sensors, LEDs, motion detectors, Bluetooth connection, computer console, video TV, all existing technologies that, once combined, produced 13.5 million units sold in 10 years. I had the opportunity to speak both with Benedetto Vigna, the man behind the chip behind the Wii, and Bruno Murari, father of the accelerometer. According to Vigna, there was nothing really new in the Wii, it was just a combination of technologies that had existed for years; Murari instead confessed that the accelerometer (today the heart of all smartphones) had, for years, been considered a bankruptcy invention (it was found only on hundreds of thousands of washing machines in the US).


Bottom up pleasure and fun

In order to make full use of combinatorial potential, a company needs creativity, curiosity, passion, listening and observation skills, the typical qualities of our entrepreneurs. Not enough, though, to keep a company above water, the entrepreneur alone is no longer sufficient. Nowadays innovation starts from the bottom and involves all employees and collaborators, from top managers to blue collar workers. But here we are faced with one of the great evils of our time: de-motivation, emotional detachment, apathy, absence of passion and ambition. According to Alessandro Zollo, CEO of GPTW (Great place to work, a company that evaluates and rewards firms with the best working environment), the average trust index of Italian workers is only 42 points. In “GPTW” companies the average index reaches 83 points, almost double. Workers and employees are no longer the same. These sons of hyper-technology and economic affluence have become increasingly demanding. It is no longer just about money, a salary increase will not motivate them. They seek meaning, energy and fun. They are listless at work, and yet volunteer at night at the local red cross; they pay little attention towards the company, but participate in the collection of discarded plastic items in the woods; they take days of leave from work to rehearse with the band or an amateur theatre company. Unfortunately most of us are unhappy workers and factories as well as most offices are still viewed as depressing places.


Happiness leaders

How can this trend be reversed? Thirty years ago nobody would have seriously considered Clown Therapy in hospitals. Medicine and illnesses were serious things. They still are, but it turns out that playing, having fun and pleasure not only promote and facilitate a quick recovery in children but, according to scientific evidence *, even in adults. Therefore, if hospitals can afford to be "less serious" why should our work place be any different? The happiness factory is the place where people enjoy working and being involved, the place where they cannot wait to go back to, either because they find friends or make more sense of their social life. This is why we need "happiness leaders" who can inspire employees, impart motivation, surprise, stimulate, reprove when needed, reward, pat on the back, create moments of conviviality, challenge and fun. In a number of companies this is already happening, although still too few. At Elica employees enjoy painting; Cisco funds the DonationBay Band which plays for charity; Henkel organizes corporate sports tournaments; Accenture employees trained to participate in the New York marathon. Be careful, these should not be considered just team building activities per se, they must become cultural models, daily attitudes and behaviour.


* According to many Pnei (psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology) researchers, pleasure can influence the activation of the immune system as well as healing process.


Food for thought

Here is a list of ideas I have seen in a number of companies:

 1.        Christmas dinner with the partners;

2.         factory open day for all the families;

3.         a diploma for employees with 10-20-30 years of work in the company;

4.         birthday wishes by the Chairman;

5.         economic and logistic support for the employees rock band;

6.         an award for the most absurd idea, or the most original, or feasible;

7.         Christmas gifts based on individual hobbies;

8.         a hearty handshake to the newcomer in the CEO’s office;

9.         welcoming ritual with customized gadgets highlighting the history and values of the company;

10.       involving all employees in identifying a no-profit activity to be performed locally supporting it with cash and voluntary work;

Some skills management techniques and people's growth processes can also foster a positive work environment, such as:

1.         tailored training courses (personal coach or ad hoc seminars);

2.         meetings on "chief systems" to try and see the world with different eyes: music, poetry, philosophy, biology, physics, society (Zurich Academy, Cisco University);

3.         job rotation: changing tasks every three years keeps the brain alert and reduces repetition induced boredom;

4.         challenges: throwing down the gauntlet on seemingly impossible ideas stemming from bottom-up input, is a way to raise the adrenalin;

5.         inter-functional project committees, observation, innovation, culture, identity, values and rules, knowledge, skills.

Finally, if you have any doubts about which initiatives should be undertaken, involve your collaborators and ask them how the happiness factory should be. Think of it as a game, and if it should become a serious matter make sure to have fun. 

Franco Marzo

smart management Coaching and business development

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